Claudio Arrau, throughout a long career spanning the continents and most of the century, has consistently put a supreme keyboard mastery at the total service of his art, achieving fame not only as a celebrated interpreter of Beethoven, but also of Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Debussy. One of the greatest pianists in the world today, Arrau has become a legend in his own lifetime for the penetrating profundity of his interpretations allied to a virtuosity that continues to be awesome.
On June 3, 1986, Arrau, playing his annual recital at the Royal Festival Hall in London, received the greatest local ovation of his career following an all-Beethoven program of four fearsome sonatas which, as The London Times wrote, "would have taxed a man half his age."
Coming on the heels of the Vladimir Horowitz recital in the same hall two days before, it was as if the standing, cheering audience (made up of London's musical elite) wanted to show Arrau their special love and admiration. Earlier, The Guardian heralded, "Two octogenarian giants of the keyboard return to give recitals at the Festival Hall." Following Arrau's recital, The Financial Times wrote: ''Arrau's technique seemed to lose 30 years. It was an extraordinary performance." Before London, in equally triumphant recitals in Paris and Munich, Karl Schumann, Germany's leading music critic, wrote in the Suddeutsche Zeitung on June 2nd, 1986: "Is it not Claudio Arrau who is the most musical and deeply serious piano phenomenon of our time?" And in Paris, the critic who raved the most about Horowitz, ended up kissing Arrau's hands. On November 3, 1988, Arrau was back in London winding up his 85th birthday celebrations with the Beethoven "Emperor" Concerto, which was also seen on Thames TV. 0nce more the ovations were overwhelming and the press no less so. Headlined the Daily Telegraph: "Genius of Claudio Arrau" and went on to write: "He has been described as the greatest of the world's great pianists since Busoni and Schnabel."
Today, the grandmaster of the keyboard still plays some 50 concerts in all the music centers of the world each season, often on three continents and sometimes more. He made his sixth tour of Japan in May1987, and is scheduled to return in December 1989 to play in Tokyo's new concert hall.
In May 1984, returning as a symbol of peace to play in Santiago, Chile, after an absence of 17 years, Arrau was given a reception by his countrymen probably without equal since the time of Paderewski's return to Poland after World War I and Liszt's return to Hungary under the Austrians in 1839. People stood cheering at the airport and in line at the box office for as long as 13 hours to buy tickets which later changed hands for hundreds of dollars. Ovations lasted for 30 minutes on end. As the New York Times reported in a long story which was mentioned on the front page, Arrau dominated the local newspapers for weeks and his concerts (6 in 11 days) were seen and heard on TV by 80% of the nation. At the free concert he gave for students at the Cathedral, 7,000 crammed inside, mostly standing, and 4,000 stood listening in the rain outside. It was an outpouring of love and adoration beyond imagining, moving the Maestro to tears on more than one occasion.
During 1982-83, the whole music world joined the Maestro in marking his 80th birthday season. As the Chicago Tribune headlined: "Arrau Turns 80 and the Whole World Celebrates."
In New York alone, there were six appearances, with the main event coming on February 20 when the Maestro gave his official birthday recital at Avery Fisher Hall. Sold out to the rafters (as were all five other concerts), the event was televised for later viewing around the world and, at the end, much to Arrau's delighted surprise, out came Placido Domingo wheeling a cake and singing "Happy Birthday," in which the audience joined lustily. Paris in March, where Arrau played the Brahms Concerto No. 1 together with the Beethoven "Emperor" with the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim, was another memorable celebration with the standing, cheering audience giving him one of those talked about endless Parisian homages. In Berlin, where he played with the Berlin Philharmonic in April, there was an official reception with the whole German music, art and literary world in attendance. Topping everything was the release by Philips Records of "The Arrau Edition" of 59 records in 8 deluxe boxes, already hailed as "One of the century's monumental recorded legacies." Retrospective sets by both CBS and EMI were also brought out and Conversations with Arrau by Joseph Horowitz was published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York, Collins Books in London and Alfred Scherz Verlag in Germany and Switzerland. Conversations with Arrau has been given a glowing reception everywhere. As Peter Davis wrote in New York magazine: "Conversations is something of a miracle. Arrau speaks with the same clarity, wonder and perception as his playing." It has since been published in Italy, Argentina, France and Japan and again in New York in paperback by Limelight Editions.
In his 85th Birthday Year, Arrau was honored with additional awards and prizes, including the Theresa Carreno Medal from Venezuela on top of the international UNESCO Music Prize, the National Arts Prize from Chile, the Aztec Eagle from Mexico, a Commendatore from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and a Commandeur de l'Legion de Honneur, France's highest decoration.
Currently recording more than ever, Arrau has completed his third cycle of the five Beethoven Piano Concertos, this time with Sir Colin Davis and the Dresden Staatskapelle. Concerto No. 5, the "Emperor," has received critical acclaim throughout the world, with Gramophone leading off, followed by TIME and other prestigious journals. An immediate bestseller, it was followed by nine other releases on Philips, including the Beethoven Concerto No. 4, three new singles of his favorite Beethoven sonatas, among them Op. 109 and 111 (which hopefully will lead to a second set of the complete 32) and the "Diabelli" Variations. Also, out on CD are his landmark recordings of the monumental Liszt Transcendental Etudes and the Chopin Nocturnes. Soon to be released as well are the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas.
Arrau, like most of history's great pianists, was a child prodigy. He was born in Chillan, Chile, on February 6, 1903, and gave his first recital in Santiago at age 5 and in Buenos Aires at 7, when he and his entire family were on their way to Berlin where the young wunderkind was to study on a government grant (by Act of Congress) over the next ten years. In Berlin, Arrau studied with Martin Krause, one of the great pedagogues of the day, a pupil of Liszt and the founder of the first Liszt Society. Arrau made his formal debut at 11, played under the direction of famed Arthur Nikisch at 12 and made his Berlin Philharmonic (under Karl Muck) and London debuts at 17. At 16 and 17, he also pulled off the incredible feat of winning the Liszt Prize twice in a row.
Arrau's world tours began at the age of 20 when he came to the United Sates for the first time in 1923. He made his debut with the Boston Symphony under Monteux and the Chicago Symphony under Stock. Returning home to a starving Berlin, he steeped himself in the rich, new musical world of that time and place; Busoni, Schoenberg, Berg, Furtwangler, Erich Kleiber, Klemperer, Schnabel, and Edwin Fischer. In 1927, he entered the International Geneva Concours for Pianists and won First Prize. The Jury included Cortot, Vianna da Motta and Arthur Rubinstein. From that moment on, his international career began in earnest, including two tours of the Soviet Union in 1929 and 1930. When he returned again in 1968, his Moscow and Leningrad concerts sold out in two hours.
After winning the Geneva Prize, Arrau began playing his celebrated series of piano cycles in Berlin, which made him a legend in Germany. In 1935 he was the first pianist ever to play the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach in12 recitals, and in subsequent seasons, all of the Beethoven Sonatas, the Mozart Sonatas as well as Schubert and Weber. In 1941, Arrau returned to the United States, giving a sensational Carnegie Hall recital in February of the year which set the final crown on his international fame.
In April 1980, he celebrated the 60th Anniversary of his Berlin Philharmonic debut and was awarded the orchestra's highest honor - the Hans von Bulow Medal. Now an American citizen, Arrau has made his home in Douglaston, New York since 1941 and also in Chester, Vermont, where he loves to retreat to his summer home (sometimes together with children, grandchildren and hordes of cats and dogs) for rest and quiet and his favorite forms of relaxation - reading and weeding his garden.
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